European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin has announced a €43 million investment plan designed to improve the efficiency of the food supply chain. Speaking at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, he said that the purpose of the money is to fund projects designed to improve food safety and to better integrate animal welfare and food production.
"Meeting consumers' expectations for good and safe food, while at the same time ensuring sustainable agriculture and fostering a competitive industry, requires ambitious R&D efforts and strong cooperation at European level," he said.
The investment is part of the EU's Sixth Research Framework Programme. Busquin believes that the extra money will facilitate what he calls a new farm-to-fork approach, designed to open new perspectives for producing food that responds to environmental, health and competitiveness objectives.
This farm-to-fork approach covers the total food chain, with particular attention to food quality, food-related diseases and allergies, the impact of food on health, traceability, safer and environmentally-friendly production methods.
One major new project is Safe Foods, which aims to promote food safety through a new integrated risk analysis approach. This integrated project addresses the issue of how consumer confidence in consumer protection and risk analysis can be restored and strengthened.
The proposed research attempts to improve current risk analysis practices for foods produced by different breeding approaches and production practices deploying high and low input systems. The research activities will result in designing new effective procedures for risk analysis underpinned by new scientific assessment methods, and embedded in a broad impact analysis of social, financial and economic consequences, and with high levels of transparency, active public engagement and improved risk communication.
A second project is called NuGO, the European Nutrigenomics Organisation that is designed to link genomics, nutrition and health. This network aims to integrate and develop nutritional genomics in Europe.
Nutrition and health research is focussed on the prevention of disease by optimising and maintaining cellular, tissue, organ and whole-body homeostasis. This requires understanding, and ultimately regulating, a multitude of nutrient-related interactions at the gene, protein and metabolic levels. This project will enable nutrition research to fully complement the biomedical and pharmacological research communities that are currently using genomics for the development of curative therapy.
A key objective of the network will be the development, data warehousing and exploitation of nutrition and health-related bioinformatics for the benefit of European nutrition researchers, and for the community as a whole.
A third project is Welfare Quality, which aims to integrate animal welfare in the food quality chain. This scheme addresses the objective of animal welfare for improved food quality, and appropriate on-farm welfare assessment methodologies will be developed together with information frameworks and an array of targeted, high priority welfare improvements.
"We are now moving into an era of industrialised food production, processing and distribution where the focus of research changes," said Professor P. Cunningham of Trinity College, Dublin, a leading expert in agro-food production and a member of the European Group on Life Sciences (EGLS).
"Science is producing challenging technologies; globalisation brings new risks as well as benefits; and concerns for ethical and environmental issues have moved high on the agenda."
The second call for proposals in the food area, which closes tomorrow, is designed to cover a number of additional critical issues including traceability of food (including GMOs in the context of coexistence), monitoring and preventing chemical contaminants in food products and improving the quality and safety of beef and of poultry.